I-Team: Car stolen from police impound lot
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Driving a rental car provided by his insurance company is not how Rick Wilson of Vallejo wants to get around. Now, he has no choice. He can't drive his prized possession, 1986 Ford Mustang.
"The car has more sentimental value than it does a dollar value," Wilson says.
The car belonged to his girlfriend Jeannera. She passed away a few years ago.
"We had a passion for mustangs. We're in a car club together," Wilson remembers.
Back in February, Wilson and his friends were out on the town in San Francisco. They got into a brawl with a group of other guys at a gas station at Fell and Divisadero. San Francisco Police showed up, detained Wilson and took him to Park Station. SFPD towed his car to the police impound lot, Auto Return on Pier 70.
Wilson says, "When I was detained that night by the officers, they took my keys off my key ring and placed them in the vehicle."
San Francisco Police Officer Gordon Shyy says there was nothing unusual about the tow, including taking the car keys and leaving them in the car.
Wilson was never charged for the brawl. When he went to Auto Return to pick up his car, he thought they were joking when they told him the car had been stolen.
"Essentially, it's treated like it's a crime lab. Do they steal evidence from the crime room? I mean that's pretty much the same thing," Wilson explains.
But, somehow someone was able to drive off the lot with Wilson's car.
"A public auction going on that day and the suspect gained entry to one of the vehicles and drove out of the lot past the security gate," according to Shyy.
Shyy calls the theft "brazen" but says it's not SFPD's fault.
"I don't know what kind of security measures they have in place for that storage lot," Shyy says.
Auto Return's city contract is not with the SFPD. It falls under the Municipal Transportation Agency.
"There's a lot of security at Auto Return right now, whether you're looking at armed guards, security fencing, security infrastructure, alarms, video surveillance," according to MTA spokesperson Paul Rose.
The ABC 7 News I-Team found those security measures when we visited Auto Return during one of its auction days.
Dan Noyes: "I'm with Channel 7, I need to talk to a manger. Who's in charge?"
Security Guard: "You have to wait outside please."
We were met by an armed guard and not allowed inside with our camera. In order to get into the auction, you have to agree to be frisked. To get out, the guard checks the car and paperwork, and then he opens the gate and lets you drive away.
"Nobody asked him for a driver's license. Nobody asked him for paperwork," says Wilson.
Wilson suspects it was an inside job.
According to Rose, "How that was able to happen? We're still working to find out exactly what took place but we will get to the bottom of it."
About one week after his car was stolen Wilson got a call from police. He was told they found the vehicle and a suspect the O'Reilly's Auto Parts store on Bayshore Boulevard.
When police officers approached the vehicle, the driver drove off.
Shyy says, "The officers had to jump out of the way to avoid being struck by the suspect's actions. Then he sped through the parking lot and ended up striking two other vehicles and a pole in the parking lot."
Police did catch Antolin Marenco. He is facing a number of charges, including auto theft and assaulting an officer. According to Shyy, Marenco has a history of stealing cars.
We were there when Wilson saw what was left of his totaled car. He says anything of value had been stolen. He wants police and Auto Return to stop leaving keys inside impounded vehicles.
"It leaves room, an opportunity for criminals to steal things easier," Wilson says.
San Francisco police say they will continue to take keys when they order cars to be towed.
An Auto Return representative we spoke with by phone says the employee working the gate the day Wilson's car was stolen has been disciplined but would not elaborate on how.
SFPD, crime, MTA, i-team, dan noyes
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